A year and a half ago my mother was notified that she had an aortic aneurysm, a discovery made by a radiologist while looking for something else. These aneurysms are like a ‘run’ in women’s hosiery; not a big problem in their small form but when they finally give way, the hosiery is useless and has to be discarded. In any event, surgical repair isn’t recommended (based upon certain risk factors) until the aneurysm reaches a specific length so the doctor does periodic monitoring until the decision is made to repair the tear.
I insisted that she not trust this potentially life-threatening condition to any local physicians and offered to drive her back and forth to the Cleveland Clinic whenever she needed. We’ve made several trips since that discovery and each time I try to unearth more and more things that I didn’t know about the family and believe me, there appears to be quite a treasure trove of withheld gems.
Now in her eighties, it finally became clear as to why these items have leaked out of her in dribs and drabs for all these years. The reason was firmly rooted, as it often is with people, in appearance. She obviously decided a long time ago that there was going to be a ‘presentation’ of these family skeletons that would retain their mythical, Hallmark qualities with all warts removed.
While discussing her mother (the grandmother I never really knew except in photo album pictures) she alluded to the fact that there might have been some anomalies in her mother’s parenting skills. Up until that very point in the car I assumed her mother to have been a hard working, saintly woman who died of breast cancer at a relatively young age, all of which was basically true, except…
Except that there might, and it’s only a ‘might’ at this point, have been a little scrape or two on the saintly bumper.
So when she let slip with a portion of a larger revelation I naturally asked for details, details, but she came back with the hesitation move followed by the “I better not say anymore”. And so I’m like, “Oh no, you’re not going to toss out a teaser and then leave me hanging”, but she got busy building fortress reinforcements and I had to scale the wall.
“Why do you want to know?”, she asked. “Because”, I said, “it helps me gauge just how far the nut has fallen from the tree and I gain some perspective on parts of the family I’ve never known.” Well, we went back and forth until she relented and, while still not turning the faucet open all the way, told me a story of her mother’s infidelity, how unrepentant it was and how other parts of the immediate family dealt with it.
Her mother’s well-documented (except to me) affair actually kept her away from the house many entire nights while my grandfather worked evenings, most of the siblings were gone, and the youngest of the brood was still at home (pause here and consider).
All of a sudden so many things fell into place in my understanding of the family dynamic. First of all, my grandmother took human form and became just as flawed as everyone else in the family. Secondly, I understood why my uncle, he being the youngest child, looked to me like a wounded animal the entire time I knew him and, finally, “say what?”.
I felt like a crack in my understanding of the extended family had burst open and flooded my brain with some measure of relief. Certain facets of our family just didn’t make sense without this part of the puzzle.
What does this tell us about family secrets? They’re absolutely worthless attempts to maintain appearance and don’t do anyone any good whatsoever. Whatsoever.
Before she opened up, I asked her why she didn’t want to tell me what happened with her mother and she told me that she didn’t want me to think poorly of her. “Mom,” I said emphatically, “I don’t think poorly of her or otherwise because I don’t know her but if you told me something of her life maybe I’d get a sense of my grandmother. Besides, she’s long dead…who are you protecting?”
“She’s dead”. I couldn’t repeat it enough. The idea that the deceased needed protection from their above ground folly seemed ridiculous to me, as if her mother needed to be seen only in a single dimension so that we would all believe she had no faults. All I could think was how burdensome it must be to spend your life lugging around that heavy bag of illusion. Pop open that case of Samsonite secrets and set yourself free!
But that’s the way my mother’s always been: revealing bits and pieces of stories and if I don’t pull a Mike Wallace on her she’ll simply stop short of the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I’ve even heard things that she passed off as the truth only to hear her revisions later on.
Appearances are simply that, visuals with no substance. Wisps of vapor with no other purpose than to throw you off the scent and deceive but for what actual good? To my mother’s credit, more information has been released under my own personal freedom of information act so stay tuned as I climb into the ‘Sodium Pentothal Special’, bound for Cleveland and traveling through time.